“Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids,” said then presidential candidate Joe Biden in a 2019 campaign speech in Iowa. Although he later “clarified” his remarks, this gaffe by Biden illustrates a problem not only in education, but across American society in general. The problem is that too many politicians, particularly Democrats in Washington, view everything in terms of race. Joe From Texas is bothered by this because he believes it is born from an obsession with highlighting our differences rather than highlighting what we have in common. We are all individuals with differences that go much deeper than our race; however, at the same time, we are all Americans and we have much in common. Joe From Texas wishes politicians like Joe Biden would spend a lot more time talking about what we have in common and working to bring our country together to make it better.
One area where our country needs to be much better is in public education. It is no secret that our public education system is behind many other industrialized nations in terms of how our children stack up in what they are learning. Joe From Texas decided to explore some of the reasons why we are so far behind many other countries and then provide his thoughts on what we must do to turn this around.
Joe From Texas believes the biggest problem with our public education system is the fact that the federal government has meddled in it for over a half century. They are trying to run education from Washington, DC using a top-down approach. Polls consistently show that the American people have low confidence in their federal government to solve problems and public education could be the poster child for the government’s failures. The following are a couple of the ways the federal government has helped to drive the failure of our education system:
➢ They legislate requirements for schools from the top down, which causes major problems. One example of this is IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This well-intended law mandates that schools provide a "free and appropriate education" for children regardless of disability—and provide it, moreover, within regular classrooms whenever humanly possible. The problem is IDEA effectively strips educators of the authority to transfer or to suspend for long periods any student classified as needing special education. This wouldn't matter if special education included students who we think of as being disabled in the truest sense of the word. Unfortunately, over the past several decades, the number of children classified under the vaguely defined disability categories of "learning disability" and "emotional disturbance" has exploded. This means that students with anger or behavior problems can disrupt classrooms and there is little that teachers and administrators can do about it. “They are free to do things in school that will land them in jail when they graduate," says Bruce Hunter, an official of the American Association of School Administrators. Laments Julie Lewis, staff attorney for the National School Boards Association: "We have examples of kids who have sexually assaulted their teacher and are then returned to the classroom."
➢ Federal court decisions have also made it more difficult on school administrators to maintain discipline. For example, a 1975 case, Goss v. Lopez, rendered a decision that expanded the due-process rights of students. Goss concerned several students suspended for brawling in the
school lunchroom. Though the principal who suspended them actually witnessed the fight, the court concluded that he had failed to give the students an adequate hearing before suspending them. Students, pronounced the court, are citizens with a property right to their education. To deny that right requires, at the least, an informal hearing with notice, witnesses, and a process; suspensions for longer than ten days might require even more formal procedures. The impact of such rulings is twofold. First, they cause principals to wonder how a judge may rule if they are sued over a discipline decision. Second, students pick up on this hesitancy and some are emboldened to act in ways they may otherwise not act.
The top-down/centralized approach to education has also led to the need to hire more administrators--simply to keep up with the bureaucracy. Since 1950, the number of public school administrative and non-teaching positions has soared 702%, while the student population increased just 96%. Over that same period, teachers’ numbers also increased — 252%— but still far short of administrators and non-teaching personnel. Notably, that hiring trend has been just as prominent in recent decades. From 1992 to 2009, students’ numbers increased 17%, whereas administrators and other non-teaching staff rose 46%. During that time some states actually lost students, while at the same time hiring more non-teachers.
Another problem with top-down/centralized control is that it limits flexibility on the part of principals to hire teachers of their choice and it provides them almost no say as to how much those teachers are paid. Positions and salary levels are decided by the state without any relationship to a particular school’s situation. To foster a successful reorganization of schools and more effective and efficient use of teachers, school systems, or even individual schools, must be able to employ their teaching staff as they see fit and pay them accordingly. If a school has a hard time finding a good science teacher, for example, it should be able to set the salary for that position at a level which will attract qualified persons.
The power of teacher unions has been another factor that has been less than positive for public education—at least from the standpoint of student achievement. Because they fought to keep schools closed during the COVID pandemic, many believe unions are clearly to blame for a rapid deterioration of learning that occurred during that time. As an article in the National Review put it, “People who wanted to keep kids learning in classrooms were called sexist, racist, and murderers. Some unions even demanded wealth taxes, charter-school bans, and Medicare for all before schools could reopen. Ultimately, school closings had far more to do with politics than public health.” In a study on the impact of unions on educational outcomes, Joshua Cowen and Katharine O. Strunk of Michigan State University examined 30 years of research to understand how teacher unions impact district spending, teacher pay, and student achievement. “The majority of studies find that unionized districts have higher spending, and specifically higher spending on teachers’ salaries, and especially salaries for veteran teachers”. However, unions do not appear to help — and might actually hinder — student test scores and graduation rates. According to the authors, the most rigorous studies, which were conducted in more recent years, indicate that students in unionized districts have slightly higher dropout rates and slightly lower rates of math and reading proficiency.
Collective bargaining is yet another factor in education that is driven by teacher unions. Merriam-Webster defines collective bargaining as a “negotiation between an employer and a labor union usually on wages, hours, and working conditions.” In a 2018 study for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Michael Lovenheim and Alexander Willén, looked at the impact of collective bargaining on the educational outcomes of students. The authors found that attending all 12 years of elementary and secondary school in a state with mandatory collective bargaining laws reduced adult earnings by $799.73 dollars per year. “Across all 33 states that have a duty-to-bargain law in place, our results suggest a total loss of $199.6 billion dollars per year due to individuals having grown up in states that mandate collective bargaining between teachers’ unions and school districts.
Some ideas on education solutions from Joe From Texas
We should abandon the centralized model of public education, which is not working for our children, in favor of local control. As pointed out earlier, the top-down approach to education has resulted in an ever-expanding bureaucracy of non-teaching personnel while student achievement has continued to fall. Centralized control, especially since the extended school closures during the pandemic, has led to parents choosing other options, such as home schooling and private schools, in record numbers. Additionally, the lack of real innovation allowed by the top-down approach is also resulting in teachers leaving public education for other areas. Some are abandoning the profession while others are choosing to teach in private schools or other settings where more innovation is encouraged.
LiberatED Way, an organization which works to promote better schools with an emphasis on student experience and achievement, recently hosted a pod cast with the story of Josh and Kirk Umbehr, Kansas-based brothers who launched a platform to help teachers leave the classroom to build their own micro schools and schooling alternatives. Josh, a family physician in Wichita, created a similar platform for doctors several years ago that has been hugely successful in helping physicians leave managed care practices to launch their own direct primary care practices. He recognized the similarities in burnout and bureaucracy that plague both healthcare and education, and he wants to help talented practitioners remain in the fields they love. Joe From Texas believes we need less central control and more of this type of innovation.
We need more parental involvement in schools. After having served almost 3 terms as a school board member, Joe From Texas believes that the best schools are those with local community support and high parental involvement. They bring common sense to a process that is too often riddled with ineffective government bureaucracy. They are appreciative and supportive when their children have good teachers and are quick to point out problems when they see them. We should be doing everything that we can to encourage schools to welcome parental involvement and to find ways to connect their schools to the communities they serve.
Joe From Texas also believes that we must get woke policies and practices out of our schools. Too many schools are failing to teach our children the necessary reading, math, civics, history, and science comprehension that will be needed for them to thrive in a competitive world, yet they spend time on critical race theory, transgenderism, extreme climate change theories, and many other radical ideas. Spending time on these ideas when too many students are not getting proper instruction in traditional education subjects is insane and it is up to all of us to stand up and let it be known that we are not going to take it anymore. Despite the fact that Joe Biden’s Justice Department might label you as a “domestic terrorist,” Joe From Texas encourages parents and anyone else who cares about the education of our children to regularly attend your local school board meetings and speak your mind if you see them implementing a curriculum or policies that you believe are wrong. Although Joe has not had a chance to do in depth due diligence on them, there are also groups that you may want to look into, such as Parents Defending Education (https://defendinged.org/about/), that are reportedly assisting parents in fighting back against woke policies in schools.
Competition in education will improve results. If you watch government for any length of time, you quickly learn that their solution to everything is to throw money at problems and avoid accountability. As referenced earlier, since COVID, parents who have options have been pulling their children out of public schools in record numbers. This is being noticed and it is putting the spotlight on unions and many public school systems for their failures during COVID. This is one part of what competition does, it helps highlight failures and inadequacies so organizations either adapt or go the way of the dinosaur. The problem is that all students don’t have the ability to access the competition right now because their parents may not have the time to home school them or the money to send them to a private or parochial school. Joe From Texas believes that the parents of every child should be given a voucher so they can have a choice as to where that child is educated. The government is already paying for that child to be educated at a public school; however, the problem is that public school may be effectively collecting the money without providing a quality education. As long as that situation remains, the child gets no education, and the school makes no real effort to improve. However, if you let the child’s parents use that same money to choose another school, the child now has an opportunity to get an education and the school gets the message that failure to change will result in extinction.
We must make school safety a priority. Our children need to feel safe in order to learn and we as parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents want to know they are safe as well. In another section of this website, Joe From Texas proposed that a portion of the money that Joe Biden and the Democrats want to use to hire 87,000 new IRS agents could better be spent on school security for our children. We often think of the threats to our children’s safety as coming from outside of the school; however, as pointed out earlier, because of the insane policies of our federal government, there are students in our schools who are “free to do things in school that will land them in jail when they graduate.” This is unacceptable! The next time some politician proposes a gun control law as the solution to school safety, please take the time to reach out to him or her to ask how they plan to protect your child from the potential criminals that are allowed to remain in schools thanks to their crazy policies.